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Lynne Voelliger

Steve Geifman's business card may say Vice President of First Equity Management Co. in Davenport, but his older brothers have a different title for him:

"Bettendorf's Walking Chamber of Commerce."

"They say I am always promoting Bettendorf," 31-year-old Steve said with a grin. "What can I say? When I like something, I run with it."

Growing up, Steve might have suspected that he would end up living in Bettendorf and working with his dad. After all, the Geifmans have a long history of father and son working together.

But until 2001, it looked as though Bettendorf had lost Steve to Chicago.

"I grew up hearing the story about my great-grandpa, George Geifman, selling brooms in a cart along Brady Street," Steve said. "That was before he opened his first (grocery) store in 1921."

Over time, that one store grew into 12 stores scattered throughout the Quad-Cities, employing 500 people.

"My grandpa also loved telling the story about Ronald Reagan shopping in our store when he worked at WOC Radio in Davenport," he said.

So what ever happened to those 12 stores?

In 1986, HyVee Food Stores were coming in, and Geifman's father and grandfather could see the writing on the wall.

"They had a tough decision to make at a tough time," he recalled. "Dad was 52, and Grandpa was 70, not the ideal time to make dramatic changes to a business."

But the two men decided to turn the threat into an opportunity.

"They knew they couldn't compete with a store whose meat department was bigger than our entire market," Steve said. "So they sold the property to HyVee and became their landlord."

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"Thanks to their vision, we've been able to make the transition from grocery store owners to running a successful real estate development and management company," he said.

Even so, Geifman wasn't sure Bettendorf was the place for him when he graduated from Bettendorf High School in 1992. "Nothing was going on in the Quad-Cities at that time," he said.

So he headed off to Indiana University for a degree in public policy and finance.

"After college, I went to Chicago just to check it out and stayed for six years," he said.

Life was good for Geifman in Chicago. After a series of odd jobs, he got his real estate broker's license, met a nice woman and got married.

"My wife, Joni, and I lived on the 37th floor of an apartment on State and Superior streets downtown," he said. "We loved it except for the 90-minute commute to and from work each day."

When Steve's grandfather died in 2000, he began to think differently about a future in Bettendorf.

"My wife and I had talked about her staying home with the kids once we started a family," he said. "We knew that would be harder to do in Chicago."

Steve admits that Bettendorf was a "tough sell" for his wife who grew up in Chicago, but in June 2001, the couple decided to give Bettendorf a try.

Since moving back, the Geifmans and their 1-year-old son, Ethan, enjoy living near grandparents, Richard and Joannie Geifman.

Although Steve and his dad run the family business, they have occasional help from Steve's two older brothers who live in Chicago and Maryland.

One lone employee, Sally Toensfeldt, still remains from "the old days" with the Geifmans as their administrative assistant.

"Sally … has been with us for 33 years. That's longer than I have been alive!" Geifman said with a chuckle.

Contact the Bettendorf News at (563) 383-2396 or bettnews@qctimes.com.

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